Lagos - Stephen Keshi’s unveiling of Nigeria’s preliminary World Cup squad of 30 answered many questions and certainly ended a lot of speculation concerning certain high profile players and persistent underachievers.
According to KickOff Nigeria, There are still, however, a number of unanswered questions, issues which will drag on for weeks and months and may not even be resolved by the time the Super Eagles kick off their World Cup campaign against Iran in Curitiba on June 16.
This article aims to outline some of the issues that Keshi will need to explore, and hopefully answer, over the coming weeks.
Who will drop out?
While Nigeria’s fast array of options has been whittled down to 30, the squad list that needs to be handed to FIFA on June 2 can contain only 23 names. That means that seven players who made the provisional list will not be joining their compatriots in Brazil.
So who will fall by the wayside?
First of all, it’s important to note that over the next month, a few of our players may well pick up injuries. Final league games, friendly matches and even training sessions can all see one innocuous challenge or one awkward fall put someone on the shelf. Many a fine player has headed into early May dreaming of glory at the international high table, only to miss out through the ill-timing of injury.
It’s unlikely that all of Nigeria’s 30 will remain unscathed over the next month and, unfortunately, injury may help make Keshi’s decision for him.
The squad presently contains some players, notably Joseph Yobo, Nosa Igiebor, Nnamdi Oduamadi and Uche Nwofor, who have struggled with injury over the last few months. Will all of these four prove their fitness over the coming months?
Leon Balogun was ignored seemingly—to some degree at least—due to the risk it would represent to take a defender who hasn’t played since March.
Joel Obi, has, however, made the cut after extensive spells on the sidelines—Keshi will be hoping that the one-time golden boy of Nigerian soccer can enjoy better fortune over the coming weeks.
Beyond injury, there are various areas of the squad which appear ‘overmanned’ and it’s not unreasonable to forecast where Keshi might make his cull.
One of the goalkeepers—almost certainly Chigozie Agbim or Dan Akpeyi—will miss out, while it’s hard to imagine Reuben Gabriel being too much use in Brazil considering that he will have Ogenyi Onazi, John Mikel Obi, Ramon Azeez, Sunday Mba, Igiebor and Joel Obi ahead of him in the pecking order.
How many rusty players can Nigeria carry?
One issue that was raised ahead of the naming of the 30, particularly following the friendly draw against Mexico, was the concern of the amount of key players not playing regularly at their clubs.
John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses looked out of sorts against the Central Americans but Keshi cannot afford for either man to be off-colour this summer.
In both cases, it was understandable.
Mikel has been largely out of the picture at Chelsea since January, when the signing of Nemanja Matic pushed him out of the side.
He has started only one league game since the end of the transfer window.
Over at Liverpool, Moses has had a similarly frustrating time. He last started a league game on December 1 and desperately needs the coming friendly internationals to return to match sharpness.
Another emerging concern, and one that some of us foresaw at the beginning of the year, has been the inactivity of Elderson Echiejile.
Ashley Cole looks like losing his England squad place having played only 14 league games for Chelsea this season, but Elderson has been a mere bystander at Monaco since arriving in January. He has played only three times and surely faces a challenge to be at his best in Brazil.
The presence of Juwon Oshaniwa as the only reserve left-back in the squad hardly inspires confidence.
Can the veterans behave?
By the time the squad was announced, few Nigerians were surprised that Joseph Yobo and Peter Odemwingie were included in the 30. Both men have their merits and bring much-needed World Cup experience to the squad.
It’s too easy to forget, however, how disruptive both have been in the past—as recently as 2013—and it remains to be seen if they can keep their emotions in check and toe the line over the next month.
Will Keshi be pressured into starting the pair?
If he does, he may risk destabilising the compact and cohesive ‘family’ that he has constructed over the last few years.
If he doesn’t, he may well have to contend with two unhappy, agitating, high profile figures grumbling on the bench and undermining him in the dressing room.
It has the makings of a fine drama, but can Keshi be diplomatic enough to keep everyone happy, and will Yobo and Odemwingie be selfless enough to support the team in whatever capacity is demanded of them?
Where will the goals come from?
Part of the reasoning behind Odemwingie’s return to the side has been that the forwards who have served Nigeria over the last 18 months have not delivered the steady stream of goals required of them.
Emmanuel Emenike, who was top scorer at the Cup of Nations, and who scored that memorable brace against Ethiopia, is the exception, but the other candidates are hardly prolific scorers.
In ignoring the likes of Sone Aluko, Chinedu Obasi, Obafemi Martins and Victor Anichebe, not to mention Ike Uche, who has scored 12 goals in La Liga this term, Keshi has turned his back on some potentially exciting options. Do the men he has put his faith in have enough about them to support Emenike in the goal-scoring stakes?
Ideye Brown (two goals in his last 16 internationals) has been jettisoned, but those that remain (Ahmed Musa—two goals in last 17 internationals; Victor Obinna—one international goal since June 2011) have yet to convince.
Uche Nwofor and Michael Uchebo have two minutes of competitive international action between them, while Shola Ameobi has scored only 11 goals in the Premier League since the middle of 2008.
Over the coming weeks, Keshi needs to find a way for his strikers to produce more goals—if he cannot succeed, we all might be facing a long and taxing summer.
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